Thursday, September 6, 2018

Book Review: Arguments About Abortion by Kate Greasley [Clinton Wilcox]

Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law is a book published in 2017 by Kate Greasley, a British lawyer. This book took me by surprise as I didn't hear about it until earlier this year. It also seems to have slipped under the radar, having only one review at the time of this review's writing on Amazon and none on Goodreads. However, I would say, without exaggeration, that Greasley's book is an important contribution to the discussion on abortion and for anyone who wants to understand this issue, this book is required reading. I read a lot of books by pro-life and pro-choice advocates. It's not often that a good pro-choice book comes along, one that not only makes a compelling intellectual and articulate case for the pro-choice position, but also interacts with the best of the pro-life academic literature on the topic. The best book defending abortion before this one was David Boonin's 2002 book A Defense of Abortion. Now I can place this book alongside Boonin's as one that anyone who wants to educate themselves on the issue must read.

Greasley's book is in three parts. In the first part, she examines arguments that try to show that the question of personhood is irrelevant to the abortion debate, including 1) Thomson's bodily autonomy argument justifies abortion whether or not the unborn are persons, 2) that abortion can be justified as an act of self-defense, and 3) Dworkin's "red herring" argument, that at the heart of the issue is not really personhood but that pro-life people believe that life is sacred and inviolable. Greasley interacts with these, and others, dispatching them, showing that these arguments do not justify abortion if the unborn are persons. So the personhood of the unborn is the central issue regarding whether or not abortion is moral. The second part of her book is where she makes her case that the unborn are not persons. The third part of her book talks about issues regarding abortion law and regulation.

I will not look at her arguments in part one since I agree with her position. I also won't look at her arguments in part three because they really depend upon her arguments in part two succeeding. So I will leave that up to the reader to follow up there. I do want to look at her arguments regarding personhood. I don't believe her arguments succeed in justifying abortion for the reasons that I give below.

While Greasley's case is intelligent and articulate, I believe that her case fails for one important reason: She interacts with some of the best pro-life thinkers, but she only interacts with two main views of personhood among pro-life advocates: substance dualism and animalism. She doesn't interact with hylemorphism, such as that held by Edward Feser. The reason that this is important is not just because she neglects to interact with a feasible account of personhood, so considering that she hasn't refuted it, her own argument that the unborn are not persons fails. But it's also important because the criticisms she raises against substance dualism and animalism are easily answered by hylemorphism. So it can give the impression that there are no good responses from pro-life advocates when in fact there are responses to these concerns already in the literature.

That being said, I'll address two of her main contentions in the book: that the unborn do not count as persons, and that pro-life personhood accounts also suffer from various amounts of arbitrariness.


Greasley takes the position that personhood is a gradual property, not an all-or-nothing one. Similar to Mary Anne Warren, she takes personhood attributes to be the fully realized, presently exercisable capacities that typical human adults exhibit. Human adults are our paradigm case for persons, and when you ask what capacities they possess that other creatures, which we don't consider persons, lack, these are things like rational thought, the ability to communicate, etc. These, of course, are gradually developing properties. But since early embryos lack these capacities, just like creatures who are non-persons lack them, they are not persons, either.

However, while personhood develops gradually, there is a definite point at which we should establish legal personhood, even if the unborn are not yet persons in the moral sense. She thinks that the unborn don't become persons in the moral sense until sometime after birth, but that we should establish birth as the point at which we establish personhood legally. So she would take personhood not to arrive at a certain threshold, which someone like David Boonin would take to be a set point, Greasley takes personhood to be a ranged property. A ranged property, she explains, is some arbitrarily determined point at which we will establish that all who meet these qualifications will be considered persons (paraphrased, p. 183). Regarding the fact that not all human beings who are born lack these personal properties that adults exhibit, she further explains, "[a]lthough human beings in general meet the condition, there are of course some individuals who fail entirely to realize that capacity or who realize it only to a minimal degree, perhaps as a consequence of some unfortunate defect or deprivation" (p. 183). In other words, some human beings may fail to exhibit the properties that adult humans exhibit which make them persons. But as long as they fall under the legally recognized range of personhood, they are persons, no matter how closely they resemble adults, the paradigm case. To even further explain the concept of a range, you might think of the state of California. Fresno and Blythe are both cities in California. Fresno is further into California than Blythe is, Fresno being in the center and Blythe being near the border to Arizona. But even though one city is clearly further inside California than the other, both are considered California cities because they are inside the state boundary.

Of course, Greasley recognizes that a possible retort is that this argument attempts to have it both ways, that personhood is binary (i.e. you're either a person or you're not) and that it supervenes upon properties which come in degrees. So the question is, why draw this line at birth instead of some other place? She offers the following as reasons that birth, rather than some other range, should be considered as the range property that establishes legal personhood. She considers an argument for legal or pragmatic interests, but considering that it has some unpalatable consequences (such as mentally handicapped people being legal persons only by "polite extension"), she presents arguments that this range is acceptable as morally necessary, as well.

1) Opacity respect -- Greasley considers that her argument might appear circular because it claims that there is a moral interest driving the specification of "person" as a ranged property, yet this moral interest exists only if all individuals within the range actually are persons. But this is what personhood accounts grounded in gradual properties seem to deny. So she introduces the concept of "opacity respect" as a way to try and ground an independent moral reason for focusing on the ranged property, one that is independent from a prior commitment to equality. Opacity respect, borrowing from Ian Carter, is simply that a respect for human equality requires maintaining a sort of blindness toward their individual capacities. We treat them as equals regardless of how developed their capacities are.

However, rather than avoiding the charge of circularity, this only pushes the problem back an extra step. As Calum Miller responds, either humans are morally equal or not. If they are not, then it is implausible that we are in any way required to treat them with respect. The only way we would need opacity respect is if they are already equal. (Calum Miller, "Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law Book Review", The New Bioethics, Vol. 24 No. 2, 2018, 190-195). So the charge of circularity stands.

2) Some arbitrariness in the law is unavoidable. Consider the seven month cut-off for prosecution of a serious criminal offense. This is an arbitrary limit set which permits some prosecutions which shouldn't be permitted and precludes some which ought to be permitted. Stipulating personhood at conception is unsatisfactory due to how far away those organisms are from the sorts of creature which exemplify personal properties, and putting the threshold at birth is not unacceptably arbitrary, as shown by the case of criminal prosecution. But the event of birth is favorable for several reasons: It is a highly visible event, it is not speculative, and it is an easy guideline with which to comply. By contrast, other milestones (those before and after birth) are less visible and easier to mistake or conflate with other events.

Now while it's true that birth is a highly visible event, this is hardly grounds for favoring birth over conception. After all, even though it's not visible like birth is, every embryo that implants itself in her mother's womb was conceived. The fact that we couldn't see it doesn't mean the event isn't significant.

Also, while birth is not speculative, it is not always safe for the unborn child. Unborn children should gestate for 40 weeks. A child born too prematurely faces developmental problems, if he even survives at all. Yet this argument seems to suggest that we can intentionally induce birth at any stage of development, and you haven't actually harmed the entity in question, despite now being born with developmental issues that you purposely caused. Additionally, while the date of conception may be speculative, the fact of conception is not. The fact that we can't accurately pinpoint the exact date of conception is not an argument against conception being the event that establishes personhood in an individual.

Finally, the fact that it is an easy guideline with which to comply is not grounds for establishing birth as the event which establishes personhood either. How is the threshold of birth easier to comply with than the threshold of conception? And what if the law is wrong? You might be killing entities which are actually persons for a weak justification, that birth is easier to comply with than conception. And while it may be easier to determine the date of birth than the date of conception, it is not out of the question to approximate the date of conception. Just because one is easier does not make the other illegitimate.

3) There are good reasons for favoring birth as the legal threshold for personhood over other thresholds. These reasons are: 1) Birth is a watershed event in the life of a human because "emergence into the world marks the beginning of a human's exposure to the objects of mental experience and enables the discriminations necessary for conscious self-awareness and the basic understanding of where we end and everything else begins" (Greasley, Arguments About Abortion, p. 194). 2) At the point of birth, the neonate attains separate embodiment in the world.

Regarding her first point, it's really meant more as a response to pro-choice philosophers who argue that there's no significant difference between a late-term fetus and a newborn. Greasley's point is that there are significant differences that aren't usually mentioned by these philosophers that show that we can support late-term abortion but oppose infanticide because of these changes. Now, Greasley's discussion here is interesting but ultimately I think she misses the point of the arguments by these philosophers (and gets some facts about the late-term fetus wrong). These philosophers don't necessarily claim that there are no differences at all, but in the way that is morally relevant (such as needing to be self-aware to have a right to life), there is no significant difference between the two. However, there is no real need to belabor the point or offer much of a response, since this is a point toward these other philosophers and not a general defense of her position. All I need to say is that even though her argument here makes sense in the context of arguing for abortion rights at birth rather than later, she is still placing one's personhood in a developmental milestone, so her argument is no more successful than Sumner's argument that sentience is what matters morally, or Tooley's argument that self-awareness is what matters morally.

Regarding Greasley's second point, it is still largely a response to the other pro-choice philosophers who might place personhood threshold in some other property (this is largely because she has dismissed the conception threshold out of hand with arguments that I will address below). In order to support her contention, she points to the existence of conjoined twins, using Abigail and Brittany Hensel, who are conjoined below the neck, as her example of such twins. She claims that despite there being two "separate and distinct little girls," each one having an independent mental life and personality, their connectedness diminishes their personhood because of things such as their inability to live the kind of life distinctive of persons.

She goes on to say that the fetus' attachment to the woman is more extreme than that of the Hensel girls, but she asks us to consider another pair of conjoined twins. This time one twin is completely enclosed within the other but still is bodily sustained and possesses a mental life. She claims that many of us would doubt that it is still correct to call this individual a person. She claims this shows that there is a level of enmeshment beyond which much of the meaning of personhood is lost.

The problem with Greasley's claim here is that she doesn't support it at all, merely pointing to what she thinks many of us would accept as a person. But why shouldn't we consider Greasley's second pair of twins both persons? I see no reason not to consider the enclosed twin a person, especially since my conception of person has to do with one's nature, not with the functions one can perform. Greasley offers no supporting arguments for her assertion besides the one I just addressed, so her argument is not a very strong one, especially considering how strong the arguments for personhood established at conception are.


Greasley refers to the idea that personhood comes into existence at one time "punctualism," as opposed to "gradualism," the idea that personhood is a property that comes on gradually through the development of some characteristic seen as morally relevant for personhood status. Greasley goes on later to critique arguments made by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen in their book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. I hold to a different account of personhood than George and Tollefsen do, and they can respond to Greasley's charges, if they wish to. I hold to hylemorphism, similar to that held by Ed Feser and David Oderberg, an idea that Greasley doesn't critique in her book. So I will respond to the arguments in her book which could be directed toward hylemorphism.

She trots out a few reductios against the idea that personhood is established at conception. I'm not going to address them here because they are in the context of giving an overview of the discussion within the abortion topic. She also trots out some reductios against personhood being established at other points along human development. Additionally, I have responded to these reductios elsewhere, as have other pro-life writers.

She then goes on to argue that the conception thesis is just as arbitrary as the other personhood criteria that pro-life people allege are arbitrary. She alleges there are three ways in which those who are punctualists are arbitrary: 1) In assigning our value in our species; 2) They don't treat like cases alike; and 3) Sorites-susceptibility.

First, the charge is that by placing personhood in one's humanity, we are being arbitrary because species membership is irrelevant to one's moral status. One might consider it not seriously wrong to abort a cat fetus, but a human fetus is no more sentient or intelligent than the cat fetus. The only main difference is its species. This is to arbitrarily prefer one species over another without reference to morally differentiating characteristics.

Now, Greasley does anticipate a possible objection to the arbitrariness charge. Biological humans are special because they possess the unique capacity for rationality and higher thinking, complex desires, etc., that are typical of adult human beings. However, Greasley says that this essentially just pushes the problem back a step. For the advocate of abortion rights can simply ask "Why is it that merely belonging to a biological species the typical adult members of which are capable of higher forms of thinking itself suffices for personhood status?" (emphasis hers)

Greasley's pro-life formulation is true as far as it goes, but she doesn't give the full argument. It's not simply that human embryos and fetuses belong to a species the typical adult members of which are capable of higher forms of thinking. It's that human nature is a rational nature. The reason that human embryos will grow up to be self-aware, conscious, etc., is because they have a rational nature, which grounds all of their capacities. So it's not just simply that they possess these capacities that they will develop in time, it's that they have a rational nature which grounds these capacities. This rational nature is what grounds our personhood. Since all of the changes I eventually undergo are changes that are within my nature (or my internal programming) to undergo, I remain the same entity through all points in my life. There is no substantial change that happens, even though I get bigger, I develop a brain and get smarter, etc. None of these things changes me from one thing into a completely different thing. Since I am the same individual through all points in my life, if I have a right to life as an adult, I had one as an embryo because our rights are intrinsic to us; they are not established by anything outside us.

Her second charge is that we are not treating like cases alike. If it is not seriously wrong to abort a cat fetus, then since human fetuses are like cat fetuses (in the sense given above), it is arbitrary, then, to claim that aborting human fetuses is seriously wrong. However, the response above will outline why this is not an adequate charge against punctualists. Cat fetuses and human fetuses are not alike. Cat fetuses lack a rational nature and human fetuses have a rational nature. It is the rational nature that makes it seriously wrong to kill you, not mere species membership. And as an aside, I don't think that necessarily justifies aborting cat fetuses, either, but that discussion is outside the scope of this review.

Her third charge of arbitrariness is that of sorites-susceptibility. The sorites paradox has been around for a few thousand years. It basically asks the following: If I add one grain of sand to another, I will not have a heap of sand. But add enough grains of sand and a heap will eventually materialize. At what point did the sand particles become a heap? Was it when you added the 400th sand particle? The 399th? What is the relevant difference in sand particles between a heap and a non-heap? There is no single grain in which it could be plausibly argued that that was the grain of sand that turned it into a heap. Yet we definitely do have a heap at some point. The implications this has for abortion is that pro-life advocates sometimes argue that there is no real difference between a human at one point (say, birth) and a human a few moments before birth. Even worse, there is no way to distinguish a late-term fetus a few minutes before birth and a few hours before birth, and so on.

Now, the problem with this kind of argument is that it does commit a logical fallacy -- the aptly named "fallacy of the heap". Just because we can't pinpoint when X occurs does not mean, necessarily, that X doesn't happen. This fallacy is also sometimes called the fallacy of the beard, because this example is used to illustrate it: We know what a clean-shaven face is and we know what a bearded face is. But just because we can't pinpoint how many hairs are necessary to be considered a beard (as opposed to merely stubble) does not mean we can't recognize a beard when we see it. So when we point to a personhood criterion, say sentience, just because we can't tell at exactly what point sentience arises, doesn't mean we can't know when something is sentient. So this is not an argument I would make, and I don't think any of the best Christian thinkers use that kind of argument, either (Greasley points to something Kaczor wrote in his book, but she's misunderstanding the point of Kaczor's argument).

However, Greasley forgoes the route of accusing pro-life people of arguing fallaciously and instead decides to argue that pro-life people can't escape the charge of arbitrariness here. She claims that describing conception as a "discrete, identifiable 'moment' is considerably misleading," and then she points to various stages and events that happen during fertilization in order for conception to occur. She asks questions such as, ""If penetration of the egg is the moment, how far must the sperm penetrate before a person exists, and why is any one of those microscopically distinct advances more significant than the adjacent ones?" and so on (Greasley, p. 115). However, her various questions don't show that conception is an event that is susceptible to the sorites problem. When a pro-life person makes this argument, he is speaking of a human being that is already in existence and trying to show that placing personhood at one exact moment is arbitrary (e.g. if you need brain activity, how much brain activity is needed to be considered a person?). But in the case of fertilization, you are going from non-human entities to a human entity. Fertilization is a process, yes, but it is not a process of sperm and egg becoming human and then the human continues from there. In the process of fertilization, the sperm and the egg literally cease to exist and give rise to a new human being, and that event definitely has a point of occurrence. When the woman's ovum ceases to exist and the new human zygote comes into existence, that is when conception finishes.

This review was rather long, but I felt it necessary to address several of the arguments Greasley made in her book. Again, Greasley's book is meticulously argued and is required reading for anyone who wants to keep up with the academic discussion on abortion. Her arguments don't succeed in justifying abortion, nor do her arguments show that a "punctualist" view of human personhood is mistaken.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Tomi Lahren Begs the Question on Abortion

Opposing unwelcome government intrusion into our daily lives includes supporting legal abortion, according to conservative spokeswoman Tomi Lahren.

Never a stranger to controversy, her recent comments defending her views about Roe vs. Wade and the legality of abortion in the United States on Fox and Friends do deserve an adequate response, as opposed to much of the name calling and personal attacks that are all too typical of political or social discourse today.

In a piece for her Fox News Column, “Final Thoughts”, Tomi Lahren states the following:

“I’m saying this as someone who would personally choose life, but also feels it’s not the government’s place to dictate. This isn’t a black and white issue and I would never judge anyone in that position. I believe the way to encourage someone to choose life is to treat her with compassion, understanding and love, not government regulation. Let’s be honest - the federal government does few things well, and I believe regulating social issues is an area where it fails. Let the churches, the non-profits, and the community groups step in, not almighty Uncle Sam.”

Many may remember the brief firestorm she created among pro-life conservatives after she asserted her pro-choice position during an appearance on the American talk show, “The View” in Spring 2017 to the glowing endorsement of the pro-choice Left, saying:

“You know what? I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well,” Lahren said.”

And I absolutely agree with her. We shouldn’t push for government to intrude in people’s decisions. We should leave individual families alone to deal with making the decision to choose an abortion. We should keep the government from interfering with a woman’s body.
I agree completely, if: The unborn are not human. If it so happens that the unborn are not human, then abortion is morally no big deal any more than plastic surgery is. Go ahead and have it.
However, if the unborn are in fact human beings, then we shouldn’t simply excuse the intentional killing of them in our laws any more than we would the killing of a newborn or even a toddler. This is where Ms. Lahren makes her mistake. She simply bypasses the question, “What are the unborn?” and proceeds directly to talking points that can fit into a short sentence.

For instance, would she say the same thing if the law allowed the killing of born children? Imagine a law was passed several decades ago that allowed parents to kill their unwanted children up to two years of age, and a Supreme Court Justice was nominated who expressly wanted to overturn such a law. Would Ms. Lahren object to this as well, saying that the question should be “left to the churches, community groups, and non-profits instead of the Almighty Uncle Sam”? I would hope that she had the moral clarity to say “no”.

For another example, if her neighbors were planning to kill one of their toddlers, would Ms. Lahren feel compelled to call on government authorities in the form of law enforcement and Child Protective Services to stop the killing? Or would she leave it up to the churches and non-profits, because “Government does few things well”. I think everyone, politically Right or Left, would consider this horrendous, not to mention absurd.

This raises a question: Then why not protect the unborn from being intentionally killed? Some might respond by saying that there is a significant difference, but ah! That is the question. What difference is there that makes them less worthy of our protection? She never offers an explanation, which means she has done what pro-life philosopher Francis Beckwith calls “Begging the Question”; that is, assuming one’s position is true while trying to prove it. She doesn’t offer any arguments for her statements that the government should leave her alone when considering abortion, or the more broad assertion that the government cannot legislate effectively on moral issues. Most people who make this claim have no problem with the government banning murder, or sexual violence, or spousal abuse. They only make this claim about abortion because they simply assume that the unborn are not human, when that is precisely the question that must be resolved in the abortion debate.

If the unborn are human, just like the toddlers and newborns in the examples above, then they are just as worthy of protection from being intentionally killed as the toddler is. The question now becomes what relevant difference sets them apart from being protected in our society and legal system? As philosopher Stephen Schwarz points out in his book The Moral Question of Abortion, all of the differences between the born and the unborn fall into four categories that can be remembered with the "SLED" acronym:

  • Size: It’s true, the unborn are much smaller than the newborns or toddlers I mentioned in my hypothetical cases. But so what? How big does one have to be before they deserve to be protected from harm? As an adult man, I am bigger in my body size than many women, including Ms. Lahren, but it is odd to say that this grants me special protections from harm. If anything, it seems the smaller someone is, the more effort we should put towards protecting them.
  • Level of Development: Yes, the unborn are not as developed as the born are, and can’t do everything a born person can. But why does that determine whether we can kill someone or not? As another hypothetical, imagine I have two sisters, aged 6 and 18. They do have differences in their development. The older sister is more developed mentally, is more developed physically(she may play a college level sport) and is mature sexually. Her six year old sister possesses none of that, but it would be insane to assert that she is less deserving of our efforts to keep her safe. If level of development between two born humans doesn’t matter, why should it matter when protecting unborn humans?
  • Environment: During her appearance on “The View”, Tomi stated that the government needs to “stay out of her body”. This can be fairly reasonable; after all, who wants a nosy bureaucrat from Washington performing exploratory surgery against one’s will? However, this misses the point. Given that the unborn is located inside one’s body, does this really matter as to whether they can be killed whenever it suits our immediate needs? How does one's current environment determine the most basic protections from harm they are entitled to?
  • Degree of Dependency: Yes, it is true. The unborn are far more dependent on their mothers for their very lives before birth. Again, what exactly does this prove? Why should anyone accept that those who have reached a certain degree of physical independence from their mothers are the only ones deserving of legal protections from being killed? This raises another question: What degree of independence should we go with in attributing protections? As the Roe court ruled, before fetal viability(The time when an unborn human can live outside the womb) the government has no interests in protecting prenatal life. This may seem reasonable to some, but why is viability the marker of who can be protected or not? Why didn't the court rule that babies who need additional medical care after birth don't merit a "state interest"? Or how about children who can't walk without any assistance yet? Or children who cannot ride their bikes without "training wheels"? They are still remotely dependent on adult support, so why isn't that the degree of who deserves protection? It seems that dependency is a poor way of determining who gets to live and die.

Tomi Lahren's assuming of the unborn not being human needs to be called out, clearly and concisely. By asserting that conservatives need to move on past Roe vs. Wade so that the nation won't shift Left in it's politics, she is saying that millions of lives simply don't matter enough to warrant our protection. The American conservative wishes to protect the values that were put in place when the United States was being founded, not shift away from them when votes are on the line.
That means the unborn are worth every ounce of our efforts to protect them in law, and conserve what the American founders saw as “...truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Responding to Back Alley Logic Butchers

We are living through a zombie apocalypse of sorts, rhetorically speaking. Old arguments that should have died long ago in light of solid responses keep finding new life in the "blogosphere" and on social media, especially with abortion finding its way back into the public dialogue due to recent events in Ireland and the United States.

Common among these arguments is the claim that pro-life legislation will lead to scores of dead women. From "back alley butcher" statements to feminists protesters waving coat hangers at rallies, to claims that thousands of women will die if abortion is made illegal, the argument is, like a horror movie zombie, still coming around. Even some college professors(Who really ought to know better) have repeated these sound bites.

Ironically absent these cries of supposed fear is any real rebuttal to the pro-life argument:

Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.

Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.

As philosopher Chris Kaczor points out, questions about women's health and abortion are indeed important, but they still fail to settle the question of the moral admissibility of the act of abortion itself. Do we have any obligations to protect innocent human beings before birth in society and our law? Or can we dispose of them whenever their existence becomes a burden upon us? Philosopher Mary Anne Warren, herself an advocate of abortion, is in agreement; highlighting that murder is wrong regardless of the social consequences of prohibiting it.

This raises a question: Should the law protect the innocent from being intentionally harmed, even though some may be unintentionally killed as a result? Consider that some have been killed accidentally by unsuspecting family members when entering their own residence late at night, being mistaken for a burglar. This is undoubtedly a major tragedy, especially for the family. But does it logically follow that the moral position a society should take is to legalize armed burglary so that no one accidentally dies in this manner?

For another example, should armed robbery(stealing items off a person directly) be made legal so that no one gets accidentally shot by an overly nervous, trigger happy pedestrian walking through a high crime part of town? This is also a tragedy, but it is going to be really hard to argue that this is grounds for abolishing laws against robbery.

Aside from the logical mistakes, there is an honesty question that needs to be asked of our critics: If pro-lifers were to propose a law that restricted abortion but also made sure that no woman had to seek out a "back alley butcher", would our critics then join us in opposing abortion? Some may say yes, but many will still retort that "Abortion is a fundamental right." Ah, but that is the question at hand. Abortion is only a fundamental right if it is a moral act, and it is only a moral act if the unborn are not human. That needs to be argued for, and not simply asserted. This goes for everyone, on Twitter and in the academy.

One last point on the topic, those who raise the concern of women dying from illegal abortions do have some explaining to do. By what basis do we know that "[abolishing abortion] will be a death sentence for thousands of women", as the Women's March responded to the nomination of a pro-life Supreme Court Justice recently? Very often there is little to no support provided for the claim. As the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson(a former abortionist) points out, there is very little support to back up the claim:

"How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L., we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always "5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year." I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the "morality" of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible." (Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., Aborting America (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1979), 193)
While more can be said about the actual data on the number of deaths from illegal abortions in the pre-Roe years( Abort73 has a good list of sources, which can be found at Also see Erika Bachiochi's The Cost of Choice: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion)

The purpose of the objection itself needs to be questioned. Are those who raise it doing so out of an emphasis on truth, or as a means of fear-mongering in an already tense political climate? With women dying even during the era of legal abortion in the United States at the hands of men like Kermit Gosnell, it should be obvious that those who truly care for the needs of American women would be willing to consider all the implications of legal abortion today, not just the immediate emotions that all too often drive cultural debates.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Definition That Just Won't Die

They are onto us. We've finally been made. People who oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings in the womb are mean, nasty, rich, and don't give a rip about starving or homeless children. We aren't pro-life unless we feed starving kids or give them shelter.

How do I know? Because a meme like this one said so.

Question for Ms. Isabel: And the problem is what exactly? Let's suppose pro-life people are mean, nasty, fetus freaks who don't give a rip about starving kids like pictured above. How does that entail that the unborn are not human, and we may do with them as we please, including intentionally kill them?

It doesn't follow logically at all. The pro-life movement is arguing that it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion does that. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

An honesty question is in order when the assertion that pro-lifers only care about the unborn is made: If pro-lifers were to devote an equal amount of time to feeding and housing born children in a bad circumstance, would our opponents join us in opposing abortion? If they say no, then they have simply trotted out suffering children in order to score rhetorical points against their opponents. Chances are, if those opposed to abortion were to take responsibility for ending every social evil under the sun before focusing on abortion, our opponents would find another reason to excuse it.

Setting aside the fact that pro-lifers do actually care about the born and the unborn, which becomes obvious if one is willing to take an honest look, the humanity of the unborn is a question that has to be resolved regardless of how nice pro-lifers are. Even if pro-life people were the meanest, cruelest, most fanatical people on the planet, it still would not follow that we could justifiably end the life of an unborn child. That has to be argued for, and not merely asserted.

 Saying that pro-lifers need to do more in order to be taken seriously is dishonest and a foolish attempt to change the subject. Until our opponents use the science of embryology to show that the unborn are not human, or moral reasoning to show that we have no duty as a society to value them, then nothing has been accomplished by pointing to other issues that are arguably not as urgent in scope or in nature.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Current Immigration Crisis and Abortion

Imagine someone telling an anti-trafficking organization that if they really cared for children, they would do more to address poverty in India that harms large numbers of children every year. Imagine someone telling a clinic engaging in cancer research that if they really cared about healing people of sickness, they would also focus on research for diabetes and Crohn’s disease. These are ridiculous accusations, yet pro-lifers get them very often.

I have seen recent news headlines aimed at pro-lifers for being silent on the issues surrounding immigrants at the border. It is being said that if one is truly pro-life and pro-family, one must also care and be involved in protecting children who are being brought into the country illegally by their parents. Make no mistake, I believe that the lives of immigrants and their children are valuable and important. They are made in the image of God just like you and me.  The issues of immigrant children and abortion are not the same, yet the two are being equated in such a way as to attack the motives and sincerity of pro-life individuals.

The fact that there are very important issues regarding immigrant children at the border is not comparable with intentionally dismembering, poisoning, crushing, and burning a little human to death.

If the tables were turned, we might equate their seeming disregard for unborn human beings with having no credibility when it comes to “caring” about immigrant children. If this is really about consistency, wouldn’t it make sense to want to protect human beings in all stages of development whether they are at the border or in the womb? Why do many people seem to only care about children when it suits a political agenda they have? There have been cases in the news where an illegal immigrant wished to receive an abortion while in detention at the border. Many people showed support for her “right” to have an abortion. If all the outrage over the border crisis was genuinely about caring for human beings, why was the concern only shown for the born immigrant? What about the unborn immigrant? It is wrong to mistreat an immigrant, legal or not legal. If this issue were really about human rights, then where is all the outrage over the 3,000 innocent human beings that get murdered in the womb every day by poisoning, crushing and dismembering?

Suppose pro-lifers are terrible human beings who care nothing about immigrant children. How does that justify ending the life of an innocent human being? It doesn’t. The immigration issue being raised against pro-lifers is a clever ad hominem that impugns the motives and sincerity of pro-lifers.

The issues of abortion and immigrant children are both important. Please don’t read this post and  think I don’t care about the immigration issue. I do care. We should be concerned about children and families coming into this country, and the problems we face at the border. But we should also be deeply concerned about living in a culture that dehumanizes a group of people simply because they are unwanted and inconvenient: the unborn. I have chosen to focus time and effort in fighting the particular evil of abortion. If a person tries to attack every social ill in society, that person’s effectiveness will be diminished. Do not impugn the motives or the operational objectives of pro-lifers as they seek to create a culture that values human life from conception to natural death. Our objection to the moral evil of abortion does not make us responsible for the issues with children at the border.

Friday, May 11, 2018

How Consistent Do We Need To Be?

Source: LiveAction

Pro-Lifers like me are inconsiderate, hypocritical jerks.

That's what you will think if you spend enough time listening to those who criticize pro-life conservatives for their alleged inconsistency. Consider the words of Pastor John Pavlovitz during the 2016 Presidential Election, a writer, activist and so-called star of the religious left:

"I actually don’t believe you’re pro-life, I believe you practice a far more selective and convenient defense of Humanity. From where I’m standing it seems as though “Life” for you, comprises a very narrow demographic—one that bears a striking resemblance to you. The unborn are easy to advocate for because you can idealize them into something palatable to you, something benign and comfortable, something in your own image.
You see, it’s not that you’re really pro-life, you’re pro-straight, white, Christian fetuses." -John Pavlovitz, "GOP-I Wish You Really Were "Pro-Life"
Pastor Pavlovitz then goes on a very emotional diatribe about the alleged inconsistencies of conservative pro-life advocates, highlighting how they are not really "Pro-Life" unless they take the time to address every other issue of controversy.

Aside from not citing a single example of pro-lifers actually arguing that only "straight, white, Christian fetuses" should be spared from abortion, and also ignoring the work of pro-life advocates like Star Parker, Dr. Alveda King, Christina Marie Bennett, and many others, all of whom uniquely focus on the problem of abortion in minority communities, he doesn't provide a single explanation for why any of the issues he lists need to be addressed with the same seriousness as abortion. He simply assumes moral equivalency, without providing any arguments for that assumption whatsoever. He then goes on to ridicule his opponents for what he sees as selectively valuing only life until birth.

Apart from these gross academic errors, I would raise a question for Pastor Pavlovitz: Let's assume that pro-lifers like myself actually did everything he was asking of us. We supported socialized medicine, ending capital punishment, gun control, police reform, and the military. Will Pavlovitz and those who make this kind of argument then join us in opposing abortion on demand? Chances are, they will say no, to which one should respond, "Then why bring up our supposed inconsistency in the first place? If you support abortion, then offer a defense of it, instead of attacking me personally."

To cite another example, a few weeks ago I was helping put up a graphic abortion display at San Diego State University. A young woman, quite angrily, began asking me whether or not I opposed war, inhuman treatment of animals, or supported same-sex marriage. Stopping her so I could offer a response, I asked the following:

"Tell me, if I were to join you in supporting all your views on those issues, would you then join us in opposing elective abortion?"
"Of course not! I am solidly, 100% pro-choice!"
To which I responded, "Then why did you highlight those other issues, which really have nothing to do with abortion, when you support any abortion for whatever reason? Why not offer a defense of that, instead of changing the subject?"

Instead of refuting the pro-life argument, bringing up supposedly inconsistent beliefs does nothing to justify killing a preborn baby. It's simply a lazy way to change the subject and score cheap points by making people you disagree with look bad. Such a behavior is pretty unbecoming of anyone claiming to be educated, let alone claiming to support justice.

Mr. Pavlovitz, I wish you really did care about social justice.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Personhood Theory: The False Dichotomy Between Humans and Persons

Surrounding the abortion debate, there is a distinction that is made between being a human and being a person. Advocates for abortion argue that just because someone is human does not necessarily mean they are a person. The argument is no longer about whether or not the unborn are human. That is clearly established through the science of embryology. Personhood is now the benchmark of determining value and worth as a human being. The problem is that no one agrees when personhood begins. Some say it is ability to feel pain, others say it is cognitive awareness, while others argue it is the ability to exercise rational thought.

Dichotomizing the human and the person provides the pathway for egregious injustice. We are not the first people in history to apply this theory and use language in a way that denies an entire group of people their rights as human beings. Hitler used dehumanizing language against the Jews and they were not seen as persons. Americans used dehumanizing language against blacks, and they were not viewed as persons. Now we use dehumanizing language against the unborn claiming they are not “persons” like us until they can meet some arbitrary standard. We are familiar with the saying that those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it, but even those who do know history still allow evils to repeat themselves. They come back to us in different forms with different groups of people being targeted. Every time the injustice is vehemently defended so that people can feel moral and pious in their advocating for evil. This is what has happened with abortion.

Abortion rights hide behind a selfish fa├žade of human rights, women’s rights, and personal freedom. We do not have the right to do what is wrong. Our human rights should never trample on someone else’s right to life. The personhood theory places value on a human being based on what they can do for society. A short story by Philip Dick called “The Pre-Persons” written in 1974 illustrates the slippery slope that personhood theory places on society. In that world, no one was a person until they were twelve years old and capable of doing algebra. This standard was enforced by a totalitarian state. The personhood theory now pushed in America has not reached that extreme but who’s to say it won’t in the future? Many bio-ethicists already support infanticide and euthanasia based on the personhood theory. When our value as human beings is based on what we do, no one is safe. Right now, people attribute personhood to an ability to feel pain, a capacity for cortical brain functioning, reasoning, viability or consciousness. Everyone exercises these things in varying degrees in their life. Who’s to say that these give us value and magically make us persons? Arbitrary standards for being persons need to be resisted. We are valuable simply because we are human. If personhood theory is correct, equal human rights are non-existent. Be on your guard against the dichotomy of humans and persons. One day, the state might decide you are not a person based on some arbitrary function you cannot adequately exercise.